Owing to the lockdown, the Big Five Tech companies generated huge profits, and it started a debate on how powerful they are.
The Big Five tech companies — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google account for 17.5% of the whole S&P 500 and net worth of $5 trillion.
The pandemic has exacerbated the dependence on social media and made it a necessity now. The government, leaders and institutions are using it aggressively and communicating with their audiences in this time of need through social media. This necessity has given power and control to the big tech companies which are turning hegemonic.
The discussion started with the ban of American president Donald Trump when he was accused of encouraging his followers to invade the Capitol complex. He was still in the president’s office and a series of action was taken against him.
Maybe the action can be justified, but it brings out many more issues with it. It indicates the reach and power of these companies in global public conversations. The influence of these tech giants to define and limit free speech has shown a large trend on the internet. The power to limit free speech has shifted from the autocratic government to the new superpower of the big five.
More importantly, these are some of the biggest political contributors too in the U.S. elections. After the Capitol Hill attack in Washington, D.C., Facebook and Google announced to stop political spendings. Apple and Microsoft suspended donations to lawmakers. This brings out how these Tech companies can influence the whole world towards their cause.
After 16 months of investigation, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee said, “The tech giants have turned from scrappy, underdog startups to monopolies which we had seen in the oil barons era.”
The following are the observations made in the investigation report:
If this hegemony continues, these handfuls of tech giants with their reach and ability to manipulate and shape markets will provide themselves with unrestricted reign. The big tech platforms with a few tweaks can easily come up with information about people who have a certain political ideology and the strategy to influence or target them.
In the 2014 Loksabha elections, for the first time in Indian history, we witnessed social media’s power in influencing people, politics, and the electorate. Modi was the front runner of this virtual political domain. After gauging social media’s reach and power, now, every political party spends 2–5% of its election budget on social media.
The BJP spends around 500 crores while Congress spends around 400 crores. Modi has the highest number of followers on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook has a user base of 93 million, while Twitter has nearly 33 million in India.
These online platforms provide a whole different universe customised with our likes, dislikes, hopes, aspirations and many more things. We live in this virtual world with our online friends who share the same belief system as us. The conventional superpowers can’t provide the flexibility and accessibility to get millions of people on board, but the new Big Five superpower can bring a whole customised world according to every minute detail of your life on your phone screen.
In George Orwell’s 1984, the big brother implied to the government which had an eye over everything and used to manipulate minds. Now, this position is acquired by the Big Five in this era. Always remember, Big Tech is watching you.